More Amazon A+ Content Thoughts

I just went through the process of updating some of my A+ content on Amazon so thought I’d share a few additional thoughts.

One, someone pointed out that on mobile the A+ content shows up above the blurb. So if you think you have a really powerful blurb and that’s what sells your books, you may not want to use it. Or may only want to use it on your print titles which may be more likely to be purchased by desktop users.

Two, I found out the hard way that you have to list all versions of the book separate for the content to show up on the product page. So I’d listed my ebook ASINs when I set up my content and had to go back and edit the ads to include my print ASINs.

Three, you can only put the content on books published via Amazon. For example, I have a couple of print books that I only publish through IngramSpark because I want them to have spine text and for those ones I couldn’t add A+ content.

Four, Amazon will automatically copy your U.S. content to the UK, DE, IN, CA, and AU stores for you. All you then have to do is go to each of those stores and click the “show auto-created content” button to show those ads. They’ll be in draft format so you have to go through and submit them for approval, but at least you won’t have to recreate them.

Five, if you do edit a U.S. ad the foreign copies will revert back to draft. This includes adding new books to the listing. So when I added my print books to my A+ content in the U.S. that put all of my foreign ads back to draft. (Good times.)

But, yeah, overall I like it. I’m sure readers that scroll for rank and reviews aren’t as happy, but that’s a very small subset of most readers and probably mostly author-types that do that I’d think.

10 Years/3 Million Words

In early July I finished my 10th year of writing towards publication. Ten years ago I was in New Zealand with some downtime between consulting projects and an injured knee that led me to stop skydiving so I decided it was time to finally try to write a novel. And I did.

Took six weeks. It was awful. Glad I set it aside for another six weeks before I went back to read it so I could understand just how much work it needed. (I tend to under-write, so that novel which eventually was 90K words ended its first draft at 45K words.)

Fast forward to ten years later and I’ve now written 3 million words. Not all of that is fiction, though. About 1.2 million words of that is various non-fiction. And only 1.3 million of that is novels, the other 500K words is short stories.

I hadn’t initially planned on the self-publishing route. Even when I self-published my first non-fiction title, I still expected I’d go the trade pub route for novels.

And, who knows, I may still end up hybrid at some point. But I don’t know. I don’t have the patience it seems is required for the trade published route. The idea that it’s acceptable in the industry for you to submit a query to an agent and wait a year for them to respond just floors me.

And the idea of having someone that non-responsive handle my business interests goes against everything I ever learned in the corporate world. If I am paying them a fee to sell my product, you’d think I’d have more standing with them than it seems most authors do with their agents.

Plus, I’m a control freak. I was recently negotiating a potential publishing contract for non-fiction with a decent publisher I’d be willing to work with, but the clause where they get all my rights and then can enter into any contract on my behalf without any input from me just stops me cold each time. That’s my name and reputation, you’d think I could have a veto on a disastrous contract.

So I don’t know. We’ll see. There are definitely opportunities that I don’t have access to as myself that I would through a publisher, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to negotiate a contract that makes it work for both me and them.

Which leaves me with the self-publishing. I love the freedom to do what I want when I want. And the flexibility to write the stories I want how I want to write them. But those are probably also my biggest dangers with self-publishing, too. Because I don’t do what you need to do to succeed even when I know at least one of the formulas.

(Write in a series that appeals to readers, release on a consistent and regular schedule, brand well for the genre.)

I’ve been lucky. Despite my writing whatever whenever and self-editing and mostly doing my own covers I’m still closing in on a quarter million dollars in revenue and have made over six figures in profit at this point with just about 70,000 paid sales across all my titles.

It’s a lot more than many authors manage. But it’s also piddling compared to some of the others I know who “do it right” and I’m self-aware enough to realize that if I worked longer hours and with more focus that I could probably have done exponentially better. (Because publishing is one of those industries that is very much winner-takes-all. The top titles do very, very well while the majority of titles sell next to nothing.)

Across those ten years I only spent 3,100 hours writing and editing. (Compare that to when I was a full-time consultant and probably worked 60 hour weeks which with 50 weeks a year of work over ten years would’ve come out to 30,000 hours spent working. Obviously there was some administrative time in there for the consulting and the writing and editing is not all I do on the publishing side, but I definitely am nowhere close to working as hard as I did as a full-time consultant.)

So what to do now? Keep going? My profit has gone up every year so there’s indication that if I keep writing and publishing I can keep growing that profit.

Try to focus and do it “right” this time using everything I now know? Even though I’ve done better in non-fiction I’m still firmly convinced that fiction is where the true upside potential lies.

Or step back, let writing be what I do when I have downtime, and take the easier route and pursue consulting again? I’m not one of those people who must write or I’ll die. I’m certainly not one of those people who must publish. And for hour of effort put in the consulting is going to be more financially rewarding 99 times out of 100 for me.

I don’t know. It’s not a simple question. I’ve never been one of those people who wanted one thing in life. And the things I do want–time to read and spend with my dog, family, and friends–can’t be the number one priority or I’ll eventually lose them.

I could spend two years just hanging out reading and walking my dog, but then I’d be broke and two years further away from any skills that would let me not be broke, right? So it’s always a balancing act. And sometimes the repercussions of those choices can’t be seen for years. There are life paths that you step off of that are almost impossible to step back onto later.

But I digress. Anyway. Ten years in. Not bad, not great. No regrets for spending the last decade of my life the way I have, but not sure if I’ll spend the next ten years the same way.

(Actually, I know myself. There’s no chance the next ten years will be like the last ten even if I do keep my focus on the writing. I am simply not one of those people who settles in.)

Ah, Choices

It’s interesting thinking about a “normal” job versus publishing (or really any entrepreneurial venture) because a normal job doesn’t really involve the same number of branching paths as publishing. And I’d say to a certain extent the biggest challenge of publishing is in that freedom to choose so many paths.

Which is not to say that a normal job doesn’t involve choices, especially a “professional” job like the one I had right out of college. There were any number of times during the almost decade that I worked for that first company where I had to decide whether to apply for different positions. Did I want to be a manager? Did I want to move to Dallas? Or to DC? Did I want my career to progress or was I good where I was? Should I stay within my department or try to move to a different one? Would getting an MBA help me move up? Should I do that even if it took away from my current job performance?

But the reality is I could’ve not made any choices and still coasted along just fine for years at that company. Once I was hired, all I really had to do was show up and be competent at my job. As a matter of fact, had I been less driven to make choices and want improvement it’s possible I could still be very happily putting along working at that company, still in the office I started out in, earning the type of salary that lets a person have a nice middle-income life with a house, a golden retriever, and 2.2 kids.

(Of course, I’m not that type of person, unfortunately.)

Which leads to publishing where you can be competent at the writing but still fail because you took Path A when Path B was the path to success.

And the reality is that the path to success is not Path A or Path B, it’s Path A-1-c-(2)-f-4.-z. It’s not just one little choice you make once and BOOM success. It’s like ten choices that all have to be made right and then you’re good for a day or a month or a year and if you don’t make the next choice right, well, back to square one.

Like:

Did you write something that will sell?

Did you pick the right path to reach your readers? Trade versus self-pub, KU versus wide.

Did you make the right choices along that path you chose? Good publisher/bad publisher, genre-appropriate cover and pricing, advertising.

Did you pivot when you should have? Did you not pivot and stay the course when you should have?

Did you trust the right people?

Every single one of those is a branch along the path. And every single one can lead to a dead end.

And, sure, you can reverse course. I know fiction authors who tried self-pub and failed and then signed six-figure trade pub deals. I know authors who tried one genre and failed and then tried another and found tremendous success. I know authors who started wide and then went into KU and did very well (to the tune of $50K a month).

But while they were finding that path and backing up and starting over and trying again, no one was paying their bills. Because that’s how entrepreneurship works. All the glory if you succeed, but all the failure and sleepless nights on the way there, too.

I currently find myself living in some sort of fractured reality where publishing comes into play because for at least the first four months of the year, things have been good overall. Really good. I have some series that are doing quite nicely.

And yet at the same time I find myself looking at a couple of my series and thinking, “How did I f you up that bad? And how do I fix it now?” And then thinking, “Ugh, KU. Fricking Amazon and their fricking exclusivity b.s. and distortion of the entire ebook fiction market with their thumb on the ranking scale in favor of their own damned books so that we’ll all cave and go exlucusive with them so they can then burn us down in fire five years from now.”

But, ya know, that’s just me. Haha. Sigh.

Ah, choices.

It’s Kinda Funny…

That the better I do at this writing thing the more inclined I am to quit altogether.

Sometime in March I passed a big milestone revenue-wise and probably hit one profit-wise and also came within spitting distance of a new monthly milestone, too.

And for the last few years I’ve earned enough from writing that it would pay a reasonable person’s bills if they lived in a reasonable area and weren’t too extravagant and hadn’t been stuck paying for their own MBA because their former employer pulled a bait and switch on them. (Thanks, George.)

In short, I’m doing better than most and making progress year-on-year.

Not near as well as some, that’s for sure. I think I’ve mentioned before that I know of some authors who are seven-figure-a-year authors and I personally know more than one that makes mid-ten-figures a month and I’m definitely not close to that.

But I’ve been steadily doing better each year. Enough to have some glimmer of hope. Some years are years that “pop” and suddenly I see an 8-fold increase from one year to the next. Others are more steady-risers that increase about 10% or so. But things have trended upward year-on-year as I add more product and figure out what I do that people want to pay for. And I’m doing it at a sustainable pace, too, so it’s not like I’m thinking to myself, “Oh my god, if I don’t work 20 hours a day, seven days a week, this all goes away tomorrow” like some I know.

And yet…

The better I do with my writing, the less optimistic I am about my potential to get to where I ultimately want to go.

I think that’s because when you first start out you think to yourself, “Wow, there are people who make seven figures a year at this. I could be one of those people. All I have to do is try and work hard at it.”

But then you try. And maybe you do work hard at it. But…you don’t make seven figures. Or six. Or five. or four. Or three.

Or you’re like me and you find that you just don’t want to work as hard at it as those other people did. One of the seven-figure authors I know of says she sits down and writes/edits for eight hours a day, Monday through Friday, every week of the year.

Me? I average 10 hours a week. I’m putting in a fourth of the time that woman is. Which is why she publishes 24 novels a year and I published three last year.

Or maybe you do work hard at it. Maybe you do put in those sixteen hour days. But then you put your book out there and…crickets. Or, worse, bad reviews. Or, you get, “Eh, okay, that was sort of good.” Your family and friends pat you on the back and say they enjoyed it. But they never ask for more. Neither do any of the strangers who bought it.

So you find that you’re not one of the crack-cocaine writers. You’re not addictive. People don’t crave what you write. They like it alright, maybe. But they don’t LOVE it. They don’t demand that everyone else read it. They don’t make absurd, unrealistic requests that you get the next book out NOW.

They just, you know, maybe will pick up the next one if it’s there and they can’t find something else they love more.

Those characters and those ideas that were so interesting and fascinating to you aren’t interesting and fascinating to anyone else. Or maybe they would be if your writing were better. You think maybe they would be. But that means that you’re writing isn’t that good right now? And who wants to think that? Especially if you’re a “that one story I’ve wanted to tell forever” writer.

Or maybe you do find fans. And you do work hard enough so you’re putting out enough books that it should work, but then you find out that there’s more to all of this than just writing books. There are so many other people who have written books, too, that you’re lost in the clutter. No one is finding your little adventure novel. No one is taking a taste and getting addicted.

You find out that it isn’t all about writing. You have to learn marketing. And cover design. And how to write ad copy.

Or maybe you have to pay for those things because you’re just not very good at those things. You can write a novel, but not a two-sentence zinger that gets someone to one-click.

And suddenly this thing that was going to make you a good living is costing you money instead. And you get bitter because wasn’t that cover beautiful enough? It if was, why didn’t anyone buy the book? Or why can’t you sell that book for more than 99 cents? Or $2.99? People spend more than that everyday on a cup of overpriced coffee that tastes bitter just to be cool and yet they won’t spend $2.99 on this novel that took you months to write?

And why does THAT book in your genre sell well when it’s so…not yours.

You start out all shiny and new and hopeful and optimistic that you’ll make it to the top. But then…life. And reality. Not everyone makes it to the top. Some barely get started. Some get stuck halfway. Some go up and then come crashing back down.

And the real kicker of it all is that it’s hard to know if you’ve reached the limit of your potential or if this is just a setback.

Is this moment, “Hey, you tried and you gave it your all, but this is as good as it gets.” Or is this the lull before you make that next leap up.

Maybe all you’ll ever be is that so-so writer that people don’t mind but don’t love. Or maybe you’ll turn the dial just a bit, try that next genre or that next idea or that next style of writing or reach that next reader who loves you so much they tell the world to read you, and it’ll all finally fall into place.

The further along you get the more it can start to feel like maybe there’s nothing left to turn.

Sure, you could write more, except…you know you’re not going to write more. You haven’t written more in five years.

Or you could write with more action and less emotion, except…that’s not the writer you are. If you want to do something that isn’t you there’s a nice comfy corporate job that comes with health insurance that’s a lot easier to do and doesn’t result in strangers on the internet making conjectures about your childhood.

You could write shorter. Or write longer. Switch genres. Learn how to be likeable online. Except…That’s not you. You know that maybe that’s how others succeeded, but…you aren’t them.

So then what do you do?

Do you try one more time? Or do you call it? Turn the dial or walk away? Because, really, life doesn’t have to be this hard. Does it?

Focusing On the Right Goal

This is a writing-related post, so if you’re not interested in that, now’s the time to bail.

When I first started self-publishing there was a lot of talk about two things: how many copies someone had sold (a million copies!) and whether they’d hit six-figures.

Which are both great and wonderful things to talk about, but as I discuss in detail in Data Analysis for Self-Publishers, can be the wrong metrics to focus on. You can sell a million copies and not make a living from your writing. You can also have six-figures a year in revenue and not making a living from your writing.

The number of copies sold ignores what those copies were sold for, and selling a million copies at 99 cents is going to have a vastly different outcome from selling them at $4.99. And, of course, if you pay too much for advertising then all the sales in the world aren’t going to make a difference if you lose money on each one.

(Which is not to say I don’t believe in advertising. I absolutely do. I just believe in advertising for a profit. If you can’t advertise and be profitable then you need to change your ad strategy, change up the cover etc on what you’re advertising to make it more desirable, or write something new that you will be able to advertise at a profit.)

But that’s not what prompted me to write this post today. I’m currently in a Facebook group that is focused on selling books everywhere, not just Amazon. And there was a recent product release of a sales tracker that provides these pretty little circular graphs with each store in a different color. Members of this group LOVE to post those photos and talk about how “isn’t it great that Amazon is only 40% of my sales?”

Every single time I see one of those posts, I wince. Because it’s focusing on the wrong metric. One of the ones I saw this week, the person was proud to have Amazon as only 50% of their revenue but they’d also only made $70 on Amazon. You can’t live on $140 a month.

To be clear, I am a strong advocate for being wide because as I told someone a few months ago I have no desire to contribute to the collapse of the self-publishing ecosystem by placing all of the power in Amazon’s hands. As soon as they can they will fuck us all over. So if I want to be able to self-publish five years from now or ten and make any sort of money from it, I need to be part of there being viable competition for Amazon.

But the reality is that Amazon, especially in the U.S., is the single biggest sales platform for self-published authors. We don’t get into bookstores that often. So our sales are coming from Amazon, Kobo, Nook, Google, and Apple primarily. And for U.S. sales, Amazon is probably 75% or more of that market.

So even being wide, I expect Amazon to be a big chunk of my revenue. That’s why every single time I see one of those posts in that group I wince. Because the goal should not be to replace Amazon with the other stores. It should be to keep or grow your Amazon revenue while ADDING the other stores on top of that.

What I want to see is bar graphs or line graphs of increasing revenue. “I went wide and my income went from $1,000 a month to $1,500 a month.” That’s being successful wide.

(And, let me tell you, that’s probably not what most could say. Again, I am all for being wide, but the reality is that Amazon is set up to advantage exclusive authors in about a dozen ways so most authors who go wide take a financial hit. And those who start wide have no idea what they’ve sacrificed by being wide.)

Look, this is a hard business. You have to take every win you can find to keep yourself going. I celebrate the units sold. I celebrate the revenue. I celebrate the good months on each platform. (Thank you, Apple, for what I suspect was a recent feature of a free run I did on my fantasy series.)

But at the end of the day what I have to ultimately focus on is the things that pay my rent. That bottom line number of profit and loss. That’s what will let me keep doing this long-term. None of the rest of it will. It’s part of it, but if the bottom line isn’t good enough? The rest doesn’t matter.

So, please, don’t let yourself be distracted by pretty graphs.

Some Writerly Comments

First, if you have audiobooks and didn’t pay much attention to the latest ACX email they’ve made some pretty significant changes.

As of March you should actually be able to see returns on your dashboard. No more hiding the extent of the return issue in sales. Which becomes less relevant with another change they made as of the start of the year which is that if a return is made after more than 7 days they’ll eat the cost instead of charging it back to the publisher of the audiobook.

And no more seven-year lock-in. Not even for those with royalty share. If you can make a deal with your audiobook narrator you can move to non-exclusive. And after 90 days you can even remove your books from distribution with them.

It’s basically everything I would’ve liked to see them do about 9 months ago when I first realized that I was basically listing books with them so they could give them away for free.

For me it was too little, too late, though. I asked them to delist my audiobooks and that should happen within the next two weeks.

I was able to do that because they’re such a small part of my earnings. My wide audio makes 30x as much each month as my ACX audio. (We’re not talking big numbers there.)

I’m doing it because personally have no interest in being in business with someone who so patently prioritizes their interests over their business partners’ and doesn’t act to change anything until things publicly hit the fan. So…

Bye-bye, ACX.

Second, some nice new developments at Barnes & Noble where they’re clearly making some efforts to support self-publishers. As of this month they’re going to a flat 70% payout for all price points.

I know they had that site glitch last year that upset a lot of people but all in all I like working with them and am pleased to see those developments.

Google seems to be picking up some steam as well these days, so that’s nice as well. And I think Apple and Kobo are still in the hunt and making improvements, too. So some promise there.

Third, I just did my ad numbers for January and have to say I’m still pleased with AMS ads for my core books.

To be clear, the ads no longer work for all of my books. I just don’t have a deep enough catalog for them to work well in some areas, but overall they definitely move the needle for me.

And compared to what I need to do to set up a Facebook ad, which I also did some of this week, they’re a helluva lot easier to get up and running. No ad creative to come up with, no three fields of text to populate with something engaging, no need to worry that the link you provide in the ad will actually work for the reader…

As far as AMS goes, I was having a conversation earlier this week with someone about the ads and their effectiveness and I think the key point is that you need alignment between everything the potential customer sees along the way from search term to purchase.

If someone searches for “dragon fantasy” then the best possible match for that search term is a kick-ass cover with a dragon on it. (Not an okay dragon. A kick-ass one.) That has to be followed by a book description that’s all about dragons and fantasy worlds and a price point that matches the genre and reviews that are like, “OMG, the dragons!” The more every piece and step lines up, the better the ad performance is going to be.

Miss one step and you have an impression without clicks or clicks without sales. Enough of that and your ad dies or you’re out a lot of money or both.

Fourth, I’m having one of my periodic “what the hell am I doing with my life” thoughts, which I think most self-publishers (or writers) do at some point. (I know there are some who don’t, but not all of us have that stellar rise to the top and ability to stay there.)

Even though I’ve made steady progress year after year, this is not an easy business.

(That’s actually why I like it, which is absurd. I get bored with things I can do well and no amount of money makes up for that lack of challenge. Although I may feel differently about that when I’m 50 and unemployable and all I have to show for my life is my books…Haha. Sigh.)

Spending time and effort on something that can feel like slogging through molasses at times has to make you stop and wonder every once in a while what exactly you’re doing with your life. Like, wouldn’t I rather go back to that six-figure-a-year-part-time project where they treated me like a glorified admin than do this every day?

But I like my dog. And I like not having to be on 28 Zoom calls a week. (Like my brother right now.)

And I like living in my own head instead of trying to figure out how to get that semi-senior executive who thinks he knows all the answers to listen before something vital crashes and burns.

So I continue while I can and I put my faith in the powers that be that something will save me from me when the time comes that it all finally collapses. Haha.

Anyway. We live in interesting times.

So You Got a Bookbub Deal

First, congratulations. It’s scary to spend that kind of money on a promotion, but in my experience it’s been worth it every time even with the ones that didn’t perform as well. (My worst took four days to pay for itself with sales of that book and followthrough sales and I’ve only ever had 99 cent deals on standalones.)

Second, on the day of the Bookbub do not freak out if the sales aren’t there when you think they should be. I’m in the middle of the United States and inevitably think my deal is a big dud because the Australian sales for me don’t report until the next day on Amazon and that’s always a big chunk.

Now, the reason I am writing this post is because I’ve seen one too many questions about how to adjust pricing for a deal, especially how that works for authors who are wide.

So I decided I’d just run through it here once and then anyone who wanted to could find it on the internet and I could just link to this post if it ever comes up in a group again. This is for a non-free deal. Usually 99 cents but I’ve seen a few $1.99 etc deals.

We’ll start easy:

Nook: Change the price to your U.S. deal price. Done, because it’s just U.S. sales.

Amazon: Change the U.S. price and then click on Other Marketplaces to show all other markets. Make sure that the prices in India, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia match the price listed in the Bookbub acceptance email. (For 99 cent deals that’s 0.99 for all except India which is 65 INR.)

Apple: Change the base price and then go and confirm that all of your Bookbub markets are the price you want. There is no India option to worry about.

Google: Two options.

Simple option is to have one USD World listing and then one listing for each of the Bookbub countries (Canada, UK, Australia, India) using the deal price. So USD 99 cent WORLD and the rest are CAD 99 cent Canada, AUD 99 cent Australia, etc.

Make sure the tax-inclusive box is checked for each country so that you don’t end up with a 99 cent book priced at $1.06 which will mean that country doesn’t run as part of your Bookbub deal. (I do it for every country rather than try to figure out which ones have a VAT in place.)

The more complex option is to leave your usual listings in place and then for U.S. WORLD, Canada, UK, Australia, and India to list a second price for each country that includes your dates of your promotion and your sale price. This should mean that the deal shows as a discount off your full price on the book page.

I’ve been bit on this one before when it didn’t override my normal price because my normal price was not listed as tax-inclusive but my sale price was so I sometimes just go with the simple option instead.

Kobo: Two options here as well. Start on the set the price page for the book.

Your first option is to change the default list price to what you need and then make sure that the price listed for each country in your BB deal is what it should be.

Your second option is to leave that section alone and instead use the schedule a sale option. Works the same, basically price-wise, except you set dates for you promotion. (I tend not to use it because I end up cancelling the sale early because I always want it to end on the 14th but when you put in the 14th that means it will end on the 15th.)

Draft2Digital: They have a promotion option that lets you schedule a promotion but last I checked it was USD only, which I don’t trust because of currency conversion. So…

I go to the Publish page for the book, click on Manage Territorial Prices, and make sure that the USD price is set to what I need and then all the other prices are set to their requirement as well. To customize a country price you check the box next to that country and enter the price you want. Click Apply Territories when done and submit the change.


That’s it for the ones I use. I assume other stores would work the same. Basically, don’t rely on currency conversion to get the right prices for your deal.

Also, be sure to check your listings in each country before the day of your deal.

For Google you can add &gl= and then the two-letter country code at the end of the URL to see the price in each store. For Apple change the current two-letter country portion of the URL to the one you want to see. Same with Kobo.

(The UK two-letter code is GB.)

For Amazon you need to change the amazon portion of the address to match the amazon url for that country. So amazon.com becomes amazon.co.uk, for example.

You won’t have buy options in each store, but you should be able to see pricing to confirm that you got it right.

Satisfaction and Frustration

I’ve been doing a lot of painting around the house the last month or so. I redid my kitchen because white cabinets are pretty but they get way too dirty way too easily. And I changed a wall in my bedroom from bright green to bright blue because I had leftover paint from the kitchen and there are more color combinations that go with a bright blue than a bright green and I needed a change.

Painting means thinking for me. I put on some good music and my mind wanders because it’s honestly a pretty mindless activity. (Which is probably why I usually get paint on the ceiling and floor when I paint.)

What I realized as I was doing all this thing was that overall I’m actually very satisfied with my life. I have a nice home, I have a dog I enjoy who actually leaves me to do my thing a large portion of the time, family things are stable at the moment, and I like how I spend my days lost in thought or writing. Even being locked down I really don’t mind. I still see family and most of my friends are out of state or out of country anyway. And I don’t mind being alone. I have books and TV and movies and music and honestly I like those more than most people.

But I had to think about it because I had a friend message me recently and say something about how I’d been on their mind a lot lately. Knowing this particular friend I knew that it was because they look at my life and think I must be miserable. No spouse, no kids, no trade-publishing deal, no “real job”.

(This is the sort of friend who when my trade-published friends announce a new release will automatically share on FB and congratulate them with exclamation marks but when I announce a new release will remain silent. Same friend who did read one of my early books and then informed me of that fact, told me they’d lost it somewhere when I went to visit, but did make sure to inform me that they hadn’t liked it that much. Which reminds me I need to reconsider my definition of friend.)

Anyway.

Their little comment made me stop and assess. Do I miss those things? Am I sorry I didn’t take a different path? If I won the lottery tomorrow would I change this?

Honestly, I wouldn’t. If I won the lottery tomorrow I might sell this house and buy a smaller one because I have two rooms and one bathroom worth of space that I really don’t need that just acquires stuff, and my street is currently festooned with signs that make me refer to it as the gauntlet of hate when I walk my dog.

I’d also probably put all my books out in audio and pay for really snazzy covers for some of them. (Maybe, if I could bring myself to go through the annoyance of doing so and because I wouldn’t care about the lost revenue from not publishing the audio through ACX.)

But when I put it that way I realized that I’m actually where I want to be, doing what I want to be doing.

The way I am in relationships I know that if I were in one right now I’d be the one carrying the emotional burden for my partner through this whole mess. Or my kids. I’d be shouldering 90% of their stress to help them through this. And I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to not have to do that. I have never been more glad to live alone than in this current mess of a year.

The flip side of that realization is that it doesn’t mean that life is perfect or happy or ideal.

Right now I have two new releases that aren’t live on Nook after five days because it’s currently a cluster over there. And I just regenerated about 50 ebook files that I need to upload to Amazon because they’ve now decided they don’t want people uploading .MOBI files anymore but would prefer an .EPUB even though .MOBI is their own damned format.

I’m also thoroughly convinced that Audible’s return policy that they push so heavily to users is just a way for them to take money from audiobook producers and put it in their own pocket.

So the money side of self-publishing is still highly frustrating to me and if I could live my life without those frustrations I’d want to. Each week it’s something. Scammers or dramas or ad issues or distributor issues. There’s always something flaring up or going wrong. And it’s almost always something that is out of my control.

Which most of life is.

So satisfaction and frustration. Doing what I want to be doing in the way I want to be doing it, but in a decidedly imperfect world. Which is much better than doing what I absolute hate in that same imperfect world. 🙂

Some More Writerly Thoughts

As I mentioned before, I’ve been reading a lot this year, which has involved buying books I wouldn’t normally buy but I’m so desperate for good reading material I’ve been branching out even more than normal. And that means that I’m bumping up against more books that are outside my comfort zone, which has prompted some writerly thoughts.

So here goes.

Issue One:

I’ve decided that there has to be a certain amount of common viewpoint or perspective between reader and writer to achieve the type of full immersion that pulls the reader quickly through a book.

As an example, this week I read a book where someone was being poisoned and they were trying to figure out who it could be. At the same time a neighboring ruler was massing troops on the border as part of military exercises. Now, me, I’m thinking that person who wants to invade your country is the first person to suspect.

But instead the character in this book kept dismissing the ruler of the other country in favor of suspecting their bodyguards and anyone else other than the leader of the other country because the leader of the other country wrote them a nice letter that said of course they weren’t poisoning them or trying to invade their country.

And it kept happening. At least three times in this book others would say, “Don’t you think it’s that leader of that other country?” and the person would be like, “No, of course not. I knew them once.” (And they were driven and manipulative even then, by the way.)

This annoyed me as a reader so much that not only did the book get banished to my “I’ll never read this book again, so you’re welcome to it” room, it took book one of the series with it.

I have no doubt that other readers would’ve skimmed right by that issue. Not a problem to them. Either because you don’t doubt their friends so would’ve never suspected that other ruler or because they really just don’t have an issue with characters doing something like that. But for me, it was a deal-breaker.

That’s where I think alignment between reader and writer comes into play. It didn’t work for me and what I need in a book.

In other books I’ve been turned off by priorities a character had in a given situation that didn’t match what my priorities would’ve been. Or things they did that were incidental to the story that just didn’t sit right with me.

But if someone says they had linen in that particular culture when it wouldn’t at all have been possible, that’s going to slide right by me.

So alignment. There’s really nothing as authors that we can do about this, but I think it’s important to keep in mind. Because sometimes a bad review is down to bad alignment and when that happens you need to be able to set aside that reader’s opinion and focus on the readers you do have alignment with.

Issue Two:

I often see newer writers ask if you can do X. Can you have a series where the viewpoint character changes in each book? Can you use really short chapters? Can you use really long chapters? Can you use a non-linear story technique? Can you use a prologue? Blah, blah, blah.

And when that happens there is almost inevitably someone who chimes in with “Author X did it” and the implication is that because Author X did it that anyone can do it.

And in one sense, that is true. My golden rule of writing is that if it works, it works.

There are brilliant books out there that have broken accepted rules. Les Miserables is the king of info dumps, but it’s lasted hundreds of years because it’s compelling. I wanted to read about the sewers of Paris if Victor Hugo wanted to tell me about them.

The problem is, just because someone else pulled it off successfully does not mean that the average writer can do so. And sometimes it doesn’t even mean that it was the best choice for that writer who seemingly pulled it off.

I’m reading a book right now that I think somewhere below the surface has really interesting world-building and a gripping story. But it’s told in two alternating timelines and uses footnotes, both of which detract tremendously from the story.

So if someone asked, “Can you use footnotes in a novel?” I am sure there would be someone who answered, “Oh yeah. Such and such did and that book was a Kirkus whatever whatever.”

But the honest answer should be, “You can. Such and such did and was a top release of their year, but honestly, the book would’ve been better without that and I wouldn’t recommend that anyone else try to do it. At least, not using that as an example of success.”

Even if this author had pulled it off–and I want to say that I’ve read a novel that did–the advice should probably be, “I’ve seen it done well, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea.”

It’s tricky, because you don’t want to discourage someone from being unique and original. But at the same time, just because Famous Author X did that in the tenth book they wrote, doesn’t mean Joe Average Author can do that in the first book they write.

Issue Three: This is just a personal one, but I need to start reading the preview for books before I order them. More than once this year I’ve started to read a book that appeared to be a pure fantasy book based on the blurb but the first chapter revealed it to be something else.

In one case it turned out the first chapter was like a computer report so I assume it was actually some mild version of litRPG. In another case the first chapter showed it to be set in the contemporary world when I’d been lead to believe it was alternate-world fantasy.

For me personally as a reader both of those put the book at a disadvantage up front because it was immediately jarring.

Now, granted, 2020 is just a year so I as a reader am probably being much more cranky than normal. But I do think there are lessons to be learned in my rants above for any author.

One, seek readers who align with what you write. Two, represent your book accurately to readers so that you can effectively find those readers. Three, make sure any writing trick you use actually enhances the story rather than detracts from it.

New Release Misstep

I received an email today from a writer friend who had just published their first novel on Amazon. And the email was basically asking friends and family to buy the novel and leave a review.

Which sounds like a great idea for a new release, right? Get some sales and some reviews.

Except, especially on Amazon, that can be the kiss of death. Because Amazon is all about the algorithms. What is this book you have published and who can I shove it in front of to generate sales?

And the problem with having friends and family be the first people who buy your book is that it’s very confusing to those algos. Because your middle grade fantasy is being bought by someone who reads 90% mystery and also by someone who reads 85% non-fiction and by someone else who reads gritty books across fantasy, sci fi, horror, and mystery. So what reader can Amazon find that fits all those categories?

None.

Now, granted, I myself have made this mistake. Because who wants to publish a book and have no sales? So you tell people about it. And because they like you (hopefully) they buy it even though they may never actually read it and generally don’t read things like it as a general rule.

Which means you end up trying to swim against the current to get to your actual audience. And you don’t have a lot of time to do it in because Amazon is relentless with its 30-day, 60-day, 90-day cliffs. It’s an environment where your book either proves itself or it sinks. Fast.

Better is to not tell friends and family about your new release until your also-boughts have populated. Also-boughts that you have hopefully helped craft via advertising towards your actual target audience, so that when those friends and family come by to show their support Amazon already knows what you’re selling and who it will sell to.

It’s a bit counterintuitive to a lot of businesses. When I was a broker you were encouraged to find friends and family members who’d invest with you first and then move out from there as you did well and got word of mouth. Lots of businesses are built that way. But books don’t work quite the same. Because people will pay a dollar or five for a book but it does you no good if that sale doesn’t help build towards more readers. Better to have people share links on your behalf with people they know who might be your target audience and hope those people buy it.

Anyway. Something to think about for the brand new author with no established audience.